By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website
The net is facing the need for serious upgrades in order to meet fresh demands such as high definition video on the web and social networking.
Fibre optic is playing a part in the net's future
A recent report from Deloitte said 2007 could be the year the internet approaches capacity, with demand outstripping supply. It predicted bottlenecks in some of the net's backbones as the amount of data overwhelms the size of the pipes.
On Tuesday more than a million people watched a video clip of a friendly fire incident in Iraq via the website of the Sun newspaper, reflecting the explosion of interest in online video.
But earlier this week a Google executive said the net would struggle to deliver high quality video over the web.
Vincent Dureau, Google's head of TV technology, said that the web could not scale to meet surges in demand and so could not deliver a good experience.
"It's not going to offer the quality of service that consumers expect, "he said.
"There will be a lot more video and a lot longer video online and its going to happen more quickly than people think," predicted Rob Petty, chief executive at Roo, one of the leading video streaming firms in the world.
The appetite for content from the net is growing at an exponential rate and there are real concerns that the network might not be up to the task.
Many analysts are predicting an explosion in video over the web in the coming years, along with demand from other services such as social networking and internet telephony.
Internet service providers, networking companies and content providers are all re-thinking how the network is used to deliver material such as video and audio.
Firms like Apple are betting on online delivery of content
Verisign, the American firm which provides the backbone for much of the net, including domain names .com and .net, has said it is investing $100m (£51m) over the next three years to increase bandwidth 10-fold for new services.
Ken Silva, chief security officer at Verisign, told BBC News: "The internet for the last decade has grown primarily based on user interaction such as going to a website, or sending an e-mail.
"That's going to change pretty dramatically. Things that never were on the network before, and were never intended to be, will be on the network."
He said mobile phones, net telephony and TV delivered via the net were going to force explosive growth on the net.
"We used to count internet devices based on the number of computers connected to the net, now it is going to be the number of objects."
The data involved in one hour of video can equal the total in one year's worth of e-mails and the advent of high definition video is putting greater demands than ever on the net.
Analysts Gartner reports that 60% of all data uploaded from computers is peer-to-peer traffic - data being sent from one computer to another.
And research by UK technology firm CacheLogic says that 60% of the peer-to-peer traffic on the net was video - be it a TV show or a movie.
On average, across the world, these files are 1GB in size, it reported.
The chief executive of Joost, one of the most talked about online video services recently, is confident that the net will deal with the new tasks thrown at it.
Fredrik de Wahl said: "The infrastructure providers have done a great job expanding network capacity to meet consumers' desire for more voice, video and data services. We have every confidence the future needs will be met."
He said innovators would continue to "develop new compression technologies, fibre utilisation and delivery strategies to enable ever-more traffic to flow".
European firm Interoute, which provides the network for many internet service providers and delivers the multimedia platform for firms like EMI, has recognised the need for fresh development in the grid.
It has spent 22m euros (£14.6m) to develop its network to stand up to the rigours of video delivery in the high definition age.
Google's purchase of YouTube raised the profile of web video
"We are using optical technology across the network to facilitate the huge uptake in audio visual demand from consumers and clients," said Oisin Lunny, product manager of media services at Interoute.
"It enables our fibre optic backbone to deal with 4,000 YouTubes 24/7," he said.
He added: "It's a massive increase in capacity. We have invested to make sure we can underpin the future of multimedia content, however massively it expands."
Interoute says its multimedia platform, called Share, can deliver 10 million video streams a day.
The big challenge for the industry is enabling online video to move from a niche activity into the mainstream, and with it the demands that come with millions of people needing content simultaneously.
Roo delivers the video platform for newspaper websites like the Sun and Mirror and chief executive Robert Petty said the online video experience would depend on the viewer's location.
"The strain that will put on the network will vary from country by country - it will depend on each country's infrastructure," he said.
But even if the network is upgraded to meet the demands of the future, the bottleneck could be in the last mile of reaching people's homes.
Broadband speeds in many homes are simply not fast enough to deal with the delivery of high definition content.
In the UK, BT is trialling its ADSL2+ network which should give customers up to 24Mbps while cable firm NTL/Telewest is trialling broadband with up to 50Mbps.
While in the US, telecoms providers like Verizon are rolling out fibre optic networks, promising speeds of about 30Mbps and potentially up to 100Mbps.
The fat pipe, as the network is known, is still getting fatter.